Even before Chiara was born almost five years ago, I promised myself I would spend less time working and more time playing with the baby girl who graced me with her presence when I was almost 43. She was a special gift, a last chance to get this mommy-and-me work-from-home scenario just right. I announced it to Dennis. I vowed it silently. I would have lots of together time with this baby. But, as so often happens, life had other plans. Work did not slow down. I did not slow down.
Now, as Chiara finishes pre-school with kindergarten on the horizon, I find myself in a state of mourning. I want to stop time and make up for all our lost days, but I can’t. Halfway through a new book project, I am racing toward the end of the school year at breakneck speed, watching our time together disappear like water circling around a drain. Even now, as I write this column, she is beside me, watching a favorite movie while I work. We are forever on parallel paths through the day, always together apart.
Where did the days and years go? What happened to all the leisurely strolls around the nature preserve I’d planned out in my mind? Or the afternoons I had hoped would be spent snuggled up on the couch with her favorite books? I’m sure Chiara will one day look back on her young life and remember her mother’s most famous phrases: Not now. In a minute. Maybe tomorrow.
So when she had off from school one day this week, I decided to take her to a local bagel shop for lunch. She was thrilled, walking through the place like she owned it, sipping her chocolate milk and talking a mile a minute. About an hour later, when she was still nursing the same bagel, I found myself starting to twitch. My mind was racing over all the work I had due. I started to push her along, even as I wanted to ignore it all and revel in her storytelling. I realized in that moment that even when I am with Chiara, I am often not fully there. My mind is always working. I’ve become so adept at multi-tasking it seems I no longer know how to do just one thing at a time, especially if that one thing is nothing in particular.
It’s funny, but in my spiritual life I often talk about the importance of mindful eating, that through slow and purposeful eating we can turn a meal into prayer. Then when that slow and purposeful eating is staring at me with big brown eyes, I look at my watch and tap my foot. Even as I urged Chiara to eat faster, I was aware of the contradictions—and lost opportunities.
There’s no easy answer to this challenge that many moms face, but I think the key is balance, a balance we create. A day we say no to a new commitment. A week we go on vacation without the laptop. A summer when we take even one day a week just to sit at the pool with the kids.
I have three more months with Chiara—and soon the other two kids—before school starts again. I can continue at my current crazy pace, bouncing from one computer to another, so frazzled that I barely remember what I was looking for when I went into a room. Or I can move at Chiara’s speed, savoring lunch, looking at every flower in the yard, spinning and swinging and blowing bubbles every which way.
Five years ago, I made myself a promise. This summer I plan to live up to my end of the bargain. Why don’t you join me? Find that place of balance in your life, a place where work and home and spirituality all happily coexist. Then we’ll check back in the fall to see how we did.
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